In his apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis
Pope Benedict XVI summarizes and concludes the work of the Synod of Bishops, which met in October 2005 to discuss the Eucharist. The Pope explains that his document is designed to promote “a renewed commitment to Eucharistic enthusiasm and fervor in the Church.”
The apostolic exhortation is a teaching document, not a liturgical directive, and Pope Benedict does not introduce any new programs or policies. But the Holy Father does demand respectful adherence to existing liturgical norms, strongly encourages traditional practices such as Eucharistic adoration, and suggests a broader use of Latin and traditional chant.
A lengthy document of 97 paragraphs, with over 250 footnotes, Sacramentum Caritatis is divided into three major sections, in which the Pope reflects on the Eucharist as a mystery to be believed, to be celebrated, and to be lived.
Sacramentum Caritatis was signed by Pope Benedict XVI on February 22, the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, and released on March 13. The text was published in Italian, French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Latin. The full text of the apostolic exhortation is available on the Vatican web site.
“The sacrament of charity, the Holy Eucharist is the gift that Jesus Christ makes of himself, thus revealing to us God’s infinite love for every man and woman.” That is the opening sentence of the exhortation, with the opening words giving the document its name, in accordance with the Vatican tradition.
Pope Benedict sets out with the observation that the Eucharist fulfills mankind’s deepest desires: for ultimate freedom and ultimate truth. “Jesus is the lodestar of human freedom,” he writes; “without him, freedom loses its focus, for without the knowledge of truth, freedom becomes debased, alienated and reduced to empty caprice.”
Some Vatican observers had anticipated that in this apostolic exhortation, Pope Benedict might open his campaign for “the reform of the reform” in the Roman liturgy. The document does not propose any concrete liturgical reforms. But it does general rebuke those who see Vatican II as a radical break from the Catholic tradition, he observes that the Synod of Bishops “acknowledged and reaffirmed the beneficial influence on the Church’s life of the liturgical renewal which began with the Second Vatican Council.” The Synod also noted “difficulties and even the occasional abuses” in the post-conciliar liturgy, he acknowledges. The remedy, the Pope writes, is to recognize the development of the liturgy as an organic process, and to see that “the changes which the Council called for need to be understood within the overall unity of the historical development of the rite itself.”
In the first main section of the document, the Pope reflects on how a proper understanding of the Eucharist sheds light on all aspects of the Christian faith. The Eucharist, he reminds the faith, is a gift of the Blessed Trinity, through which the faithful are brought into direct participation in Christ’s Sacrifice. “More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos,” he says, “we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving.”
Sacramentum Caritatis offers a series of meditations on how the other sacraments are oriented toward the Eucharist, the “source and summit” of the life of the Church. The Pope writes, for instance, that the sacrament of Penance needs special attention because “the faithful are surrounded by a culture that tends to eliminate the sense of sin and to promote a superficial approach that overlooks the need to be in a state of grace in order to approach sacramental communion worthily.” Without a clear understanding of sin, the Pope observes, people will inevitably suffer from “a certain superficiality in the understanding of God’s love.” So he “asks pastors to be vigilant with regard to the celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation.”
Regarding the sacrament of holy orders, Pope Benedict stresses that “priests should be conscious of the fact that in their ministry they must never put themselves or their personal opinions in first place, but Jesus Christ. Any attempt to make themselves the centre of the liturgical action contradicts their very identity as priests.” Later in the document he underlines the same message, addressing specifically the priest’s duty to follow the liturgical norms of the Church: “Attentiveness and fidelity to the specific structure of the rite express both a recognition of the nature of Eucharist as a gift and, on the part of the minister, a docile openness to receiving this ineffable gift.
Marriage is also properly oriented toward the Eucharist, the Pope writes, since “the marriage bond is intrinsically linked to the Eucharistic unity of Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride, the Church.” He reminds readers that the Church cannot compromise her teaching on the integrity and permanence of marriage.
The Synod of Bishops, Pope Benedict recalls, devoted a good deal of discussion to the problem of Catholics who are divorced and remarried, and ultimately affirmed the traditional teaching that they may not receive the Eucharist. In this apostolic exhortation the Pontiff reinforces the Synod’s call for pastors to be especially attentive to the pastoral needs of those who are divorced. But he cautions that “pastoral care must not be understood as if it were somehow in conflict with the law.”
In the second major section of the apostolic exhortation, on the celebration of the Eucharist, the Pope spokes of each bishop’s responsibility “to ensure unity and harmony in the celebrations taking place in his territory.” The liturgy, the Pope writes, must reflect the beauty that is a quality of objective truth.
When the bishop himself presides at an important liturgy for a large congregation, the Pope points out that the Synod recommended that the Eucharistic celebration should emphasize “the unity and universality of the Church.” Toward that end, the Synod proposed– following the directives of Vatican II– that the Mass should be celebrated in Latin, the universal language of the Church, except for the homily and the readings.
In this section Pope Benedict also writes about the tradition of Catholic liturgical music, saying that this “heritage must not be lost.” The Pope strongly endorses the recovery of chant and sacred music. “Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another,” he writes. “Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided.”
Sacramentum Caritatis dwells at length on the call of Vatican II for active participation by the laity in the Eucharistic celebration. Pope Benedict observes: “It is helpful to recall that active participation is not per se equivalent to the exercise of a specific ministry.” The laity and the clergy have distinct roles, he stresses.
Rather than busy activity, the Pope writes, the lay faithful can best participate in the Eucharist through an interior disposition. He continues: “This inner disposition can be fostered, for example, by recollection and silence for at least a few moments before the beginning of the liturgy, by fasting and, when necessary, by sacramental confession.”
Pope Benedict also writes at some length about the benefits of Eucharistic adoration. He recalls that one of “the most moving moments of the Synod” came when the prelates joined in silent adoration at the Vatican basilica. “The act of adoration outside Mass,” he says, “prolongs and intensifies all that takes place during the liturgical celebration itself.”
Like the Synod, the Pontiff writes, he would “heartily recommend” the practice of Eucharistic adoration, “both individually and in community.” He praises the religious order that make Eucharistic adoration a central element of their lives. And to promote the practice among the faithful, he reminds pastors that “the place where the Eucharistic species are reserved, marked by a sanctuary lamp, should be readily visible to everyone entering the church.”
The third and final section of Sacramentum Caritatis, the Pope explains how the Church, nourished by the Eucharist, carries out her mission to the world at large. True worship, he writes, “cannot be relegated to something private and individual, but tends by its nature to permeate every aspect of our existence.”
Special to CWNews.com Vatican, Mar. 13, 2007 (CWNews.com)